The grid — a simple arrangement of individual elements into perpendicular lines — is a familiar and fundamental pattern, a cornerstone of urban planning and industrial production. Yet in recent years, use of the three-dimensional matrix — an essential element of digital media — has extended the grid into new and often unpredictable dimensions, reshaping our daily experience of culture, communication and self-expression.
This fall, the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum will present [Grid < > Matrix], the first installment in the new series “Screen Arts and New Media Aesthetics.” The exhibition investigates both ruptures and continuities between these two distinct yet related modes of visual organization, exploring how the grid and the matrix have influenced our understanding of aesthetics, art and media since the early 20th century.
Drawn from private collections and major museums, [Grid < > Matrix] is curated by Sabine Eckmann, Ph.D., director and chief curator of the Kemper Art Museum, and Lutz Koepnick, Ph.D., professor of German and of film and media studies in Washington University’s College of Arts & Sciences. It includes work by 15 artists, ranging from classical modernists such as Piet Mondrian, Theo van Doesburg and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy to major mid-century artists such as Dan Flavin, Agnes Martin, Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol to important contemporary figures like Albert Oehlen, Julius Popp and Jeffrey Shaw.
Early use of the grid — in paintings such as van Doesburg’s Composition VII: The Three Graces (1917) and Mondrian’s Composition of Red and White (1938-42) — often reflects a sense of technological possibility while also emphasizing the purity and autonomy of the abstract image. By contrast, Warhol’s silkscreen canvas Twenty Blue Green Maos (1979) and Flavin’s fluorescent light sculpture Untitled (in honor of Leo at the 30th anniversary of his gallery (1987) employ the grid as a means of introducing industrial processes and materials into the sphere of high art.
The grid continues to play an important role in computer-based work such as digital photography, which subdivides images into grids of individual pixels. Yet it is the matrix — which sets the modernist grid into motion — that has become truly emblematic of current digital culture. For example, Shaw’s The Legible City (1988-91) uses plans for actual cities to create a virtual structure composed of words and letters and broadcast onto large screens, through which visitors navigate by “riding” an interactive stationary bicycle.
Other contemporary artists employ the matrix to highlight the immaterial, the ephemeral and the passage of time. Oehlen’s The Annihilator (2001/06) combines matrix-based patterns with freehand painterly gestures to explore affinities between abstract painting and digital technology. Popp’s Bit.Fall (2001-06) employs water droplets and a complex, computer-controlled valve system to create an enormous, ever-changing water wall of frequently used internet search terms.
Screen Arts & New Media Aesthetics
Dedicated to new media art, “Screen Arts and New Media Aesthetics” is designed to stimulate discussion about the aesthetics of the digital and its role in contemporary research, discourse and artistic practice. The series will highlight emerging electronic forms as well as older forms of technological art such as photography, film and video through a wide range of publications, exhibitions, lectures, workshops and discussions.
[Grid < > Matrix] is one of three inaugural exhibitions — along with an installation of the permanent collection — at Washington University’s new Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum. A dedication ceremony will begin at 3 p.m. with exhibitions opening from 4:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 25. All exhibitions are free and open to the public and remain on view through Dec. 31. The Kemper Art Museum is located near the intersection of Skinker and Forsyth boulevards. Hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Fridays; and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. The museum is closed Tuesdays.
For more information, call (314) 935-4523 or visit kemperartmuseum.wustl.edu.
WHO: Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum
WHAT: Exhibition, [Grid<>Matrix]
WHEN: Oct. 25 to Dec. 31; Opening 4:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 25.
WHERE: Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Washington University, near the intersection of Forsyth and Skinker boulevards.
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Fridays; 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Closed Tuesdays.
INFORMATION: (314) 935-4523 or visit kemperartmuseum.wustl.edu